Published On: Wed, Nov 24th, 2021

Different board, same lousy leadership

Shelby, NC — I began attending the Cleveland County Board of Education meetings in late 2013. I had already been attending the Cleveland County Commissioners meetings for the past year. Not only did I attend these meetings, but I also reported and recorded via video, the entire meetings and made them available to the public online. Even then, there was no shortage of scandals surrounding the school board. As we see on a regular basis, the scandals continue and the results are covered up…just like the old days. All the videos are still available online .

Back in those days, it was always suspected that the Cleveland County School System was paying for favorable coverage, via the Shelby Star.
The Publisher of the Shelby Star, Skip Foster signed a contract with the school and Superintendent Bruce Boyles for two years. One year for around $88K and the next year, approximately $92K. The Star had contracted for not only, the Newspaper in Schools, but also for advertising and marketing, etc. They were more or less, the PR arm of the school board. Wait. What? Yes, you want proof? Look at the documents below.

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How these documents were discovered is almost comical. At the time, there were several billboards throughout Cleveland County, advertising the quality of Cleveland County Schools. As always, in recent newspaper articles, The Star was yet again informing the public that the school system was in dire need of money, some teachers may be laid off, not enough for supplies, etc. And yet, these billboards decorated the roadside throughout the county. So, I sent an email to all the school board members, asking about the billboards.

June 2,2013: Email from Hal Trammell, Editor of shelbyactionnews.com to the nine Cleveland County Board of Education members: Phillip W. Glover; Kathy B. Falls; Richard Hooker; Jack Hamrick; George Litton; Shearra Miller; Dale Oliver; Jerry D. Hoyle; Roger M. Harris:

I would like to ask a few questions that I have received concerning the billboard that is up on Hwy. 150N.
Who authorized this transaction? What are the terms of the contract? To whom (what company) is the contract made? How much is this billboard costing the school district? Who is responsible for paying for the billboard? What is the purpose of the billboard?
Also, if any of you would like to respond, please feel free to do so. I will be glad to share your responses with the citizens of Cleveland County.
Thank you for your time and efforts.
(Note: Board members Jack Hamrick and Kathy B. Falls responded by email that they were not aware of the billboard and inquired about the location, which Hal Trammell, in turn, informed each of them by email. He had no response from the other seven board members).

[Ed: Highlights mine]

June 4, 2013 Letter from Bruce Boyles, Superintendent of Cleveland County Schools to
Hal Trammell, Editor of shelbyactionnews.com, in reference to
Cleveland County Schools billboard on Highway 150 North, copy to each
of the nine Board of Education members:
Mr. Trammell,
I am responding to your email to members of the Cleveland County Board of Education concerning the billboard on Highway 150. The billboard came as a result of discussions during our 2008 Strategic Planning activity that included many members of the community. The board heard from this group that our communication efforts needed to be updated in a variety of ways. Consequently, they supported efforts to better communicate with the community through strategies such as an upgraded website, a parent calling system, a regular information program on C19, more media and press releases, a social media presence, print ads highlighting the accomplishments of students and teachers and activities like the billboard.
Beginning formally in 2010 with the creation of a new district logo, these efforts have focused on the competition tradition public schools are encountering from private schools, charter schools, home schools, and online schools in the form of ads, direct mailings, media stories, etc. As the school choice movement has grown, parents now have the opportunity to “shop” for schools and traditional public schools have become just one of the options. Just like the other non-traditional schools have done, our school system has responded with efforts to better inform the public and parents as they make choices. Like these other kinds of schools, we have included some advertising.
However, these efforts are not only about attracting and/or retaining the best students but also about garnering other kinds of support. There is keen competition now among school types for donations from individuals and organizations, competition for volunteers, competition for resources, and competition for the best teachers. In addition to addressing the school choice issue, these communication activities help inform parents and the community about successes that may not be reported in the local media.
The contract for the billboards and other communication efforts are cancelable at any time with 30 days notice. The contract is facilitated through the Shelby Star that does the layout and design work for all of the ads and they are paid for by the school system.
The contract is $6,000 per year for a minimum of two guaranteed billboards but the system also receives a donation of additional billboards from Creative Signs as part of the agreement and there is no charge for the vinyl replacement. The donated billboards have ranged from 2-6 additional ones depending upon which locations are vacant at the time. We have had some of the “bonus” billboards continuously since the effort began. Consequently, we have had as many as 7 or 8 billboards up at a time.
If you have additional questions you may contact me.
Bruce Boyles, Ed. D
Superintendent
Cleveland County Schools

And I did indeed contact Superintendent Boyles. I thanked him for his reply, and also I told him how much I appreciated all the extra information that I had received in his email reply. I also told Superintendent Boyles that I was disappointed that the board members couldn’t speak for themselves. And, now his response has raised more questions regarding the Star, I immediately filed a Public Records Request regarding the business relationship between the Star and the school. In return, with approximately 200 or more documents in hand, I began my battle with the school’s secrets. Little did I know what I would discover in a short period of time.

June 10, 2013: And like clock-work, the Star responded thusly:

June 10, 2013, The Star- What’s in the county’s spending plan?- A raise for employees among other adjustments- Full-time county employees may receive a boost in pay for the first time in five years. About 750 full-time employees will receive a 2-percent raise if the current proposed Cleveland County budget for 2012-14 is approved, said interim county manager David Dear. The total amount of all county employees’ salaries is about $20 million, Dear said. Here’s a look at other changes in the budget:
Cleveland County Schools- Cleveland County Schools is set to get about $558,000 less from the county in the next fiscal year budget. The change is due to a decrease in the number of students in the school system, Dear said. “Schools are still getting the same dollar amount per pupil as they did last year,” he said. The total county education fund in 2012-13 was $13,248,213, and the proposed amount for 2013-14 is $12,689,570.

Have circumstances changed much, since the above issues have shown? Only some board members have changed…but not their behavior. A different superintendent, but not the behavior. As a matter of fact, current board chairman Robert Queen, back in those days, was a fierce advocate against the very things he is now advocating for! So are a couple of others who were recently elected. Promise keepers, they aren’t. I attended these CCS board meetings for a little over a year, and recall that Queen was a regular speaker, during the public participation. He appeared to be well versed in his complaints, with documentation and such. He and I had many conversations regarding outlandish spending. He even hosted a couple of Town Hall Forums before the school board elections. Most of the issues he was fighting for and complaining about then, now, not a peep!

Fast forward to February, 2014:

In reviewing documents obtained from the Cleveland County School system, we want to pass along a summary and some details of what we are finding. Many credit card transactions are questionable, as to how it relates to the department that purchased the items listed on the receipts. It has been hard for us to receive answers to some questions, because the superintendent, along with the school board has said that even though these documents are public record, the reasons for the purchases are not. They have made it, and continue to make it quite clear, that these reasons are of no business to the public. I take that as a bit of lacking accountability and being irresponsible leaders.

In my opinion, entities that use taxpayers funds to “do business”, then the people have a right to know if these leaders are spending wisely. It is also my opinion, as well as many other people, that a school system is a massive business, that needs sound and sensible leadership, and requires a healthy dose of public scrutiny.

Many of these documents show a regular pattern of spending that does not seem necessary. Some examples are:

Receipts from the Country Club, for meals, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars up to $3,228. The purchase of soft drinks, candy, crackers, and gum, often 10 days apart, or less, from a cost of $50 or less, to over $600. We have found receipts for $42 up to $300 for jewelry. Some unexplained receipts from a specialty gift shop, receipts from Bath and Body Works, Incredible Edibles, a receipt from Hickory Farms for $601, and a receipt from M&M’s for 5lbs of M&M’s with a special printing of CCS on each piece of candy, for a total of $152.95. There are receipts that show the purchase of a hummingbird feeder, hummingbird food, water cans, flower bulbs, and various other goodies.

Even though these records are public, we are told the reason for the purchase of these things is none of our business. I would beg to differ.

This is to highlight some issues from 7-8 years ago. As you will see as I share more information, things have not changed whatsoever. Even the sex scandals that continued were treated as they are today, by the administration and board. More to come…soon!

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